Early last week, Newton Township, just outside of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, in Lackawanna County, held a public meeting to discuss a proposed ban on natural gas development. The Township has been besieged by the anti-gas forces, including, at previous meetings, representatives from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which we exposed on this blog here, here and here. This meeting was open for both experts and non-experts to voice their opinions. Roughly 80 people attended with the crowd split evenly between supporters and opponents of a ban. While numbers may have been equal, the quality of arguments were not and those urging the Township to ban natural gas exploration came out on the losing end.
Watching the anti-gas crowd at work is always eye-opening. They focus on everything but the issue at hand – the legality and appropriateness of a natural gas ban by the Township. They talked about leasing tactics, money, aquifers, hydraulic fracturing and many other things, but said nothing about applicable law, property rights or the legal authority of the Township to regulate natural gas development. Some familiar faces from Dimock arrived with the usual props, but somehow, once again, left their water tests at home. Their road show gets more than a little tiring after you’ve seen it a few times. Here is an example of what I mean:
However, there was much more than this to the Newton meeting. Several speakers addressed the point of the meeting – whether or not the Township had authority to regulate natural gas development – and if so, how that could be accomplished. Keith Eckel, a local farmer and former President of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, offered these sensible comments in his appeal to the Township Board of Supervisors:
The Township Zoning Officer, speaking on behalf of the Township Planning Commission also related how they were approaching the issue. It was clear the commission is taking the issue seriously and understood what Township’s limitations. It was a thoughtful analysis, as you can see here:
Our Campaign Director, Tom Shepstone, who has many years experience as a professional planner, also spoke to the Township and addressed the CELDF’s approach and agenda, as well as the legal issues surrounding natural gas regulation in Pennsylvania. He noted the extreme positions taken by the CELDF, the flaws in the types of ordinances they have developed and their abysmal track record in defending these local laws.
It was clear, as the evening ended, that the Township Board of Supervisors are determined to forge an ordinance or ordinance amendments that stays within the law and tackles the real issues. All the talk about some landowners not getting what they deserved in lease bonus money, all the hydraulic fracturing hysteria and all the attempts to suggest pollution without proof fell on deaf ears. One suspects its because those ears have heard it all before. The anti-gas messaging is getting tired as people are seeing first hand that natural gas exploration is being done safely and responsibly. Go to these communities and ask a majority of residents, they will tell you themselves.
Communities are focused on the economy and most importantly jobs for their residents as they see cities like Williamsport, PA thriving after decades of decay. They see it in Bradford, Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties and they know Newton Township could benefit as well. Lackawanna County’s unemployment rate in August was 9.5%, compared to 6.5% for Bradford, which is the lowest in the Commonwealth. That pretty well says it all, doesn’t it? Do the Newton Township Supervisors get it? It appears so.